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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Red Cliffs 1

Last fall we spent a few weeks camping in some of the epic National Parks in the U.S.  My previous post was on the Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park.  Since I'm back to that theme, I'll finish up with the last place we stayed on our camping trip--which although one of our favorites, wasn't a national park at all.  We only stayed in Zion for a day and a half, because although it was absolutely breath-taking, and I could have spent many days exploring there, it was just way too crammed with people for our liking--the campsites, the roads, the bus system--everything.  So I spent the first night studying the maps of the area and found a little spot off the beaten trail that looked promising...Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

It was about 30 minutes to the West of Zion, so we figured we could camp there, and then drive into Zion to explore each day for a few days, and at least avoid some of the crowds while camping.  That was our plan anyway.  But once we got there we didn't see much point in leaving.  Other than a few excursions to find ice and some food supplies, we pretty much spent the majority of the next three or four days relaxing and playing in and on the red cliffs that surrounded our campsite.  If you look closely in the picture below you can see our kids scrambling up the face of that sloping rock, and the top of our green canvas shade tent sticking up from behind it.

We had the place mostly to ourselves and the kids were having a blast climbing on the rocks that were everywhere.

Again, if you look closely you can find the kids in the distance, just left of center, up near the top of the rocks.

Since the kids were so content scrambling around on the rocks near our campsite, and Joy was happily watching them while reading a book, I was able to sneak away and do some of my own exploring.  I following a stream and eventually it led to a narrow, winding canyon.  I had the camera and was taking some pictures, but decided that without a person in this photo you really don't have any perspective on the size.  So I took a cheesy self-portrait.

And then, after working myself way up high onto some cliffs surrounding the valley, and being in the cheesy-self-portrait-mood, I took another.  You can't tell from the picture, but it drops vertically a couple of hundred feet or so directly behind my feet.  I don't know why, but I like standing on the edge of things.

Mine wasn't the only cheesy portrait I took though.  Yeah, as I was scrambling back down I came across this rather large fellow, hiding under a clump of grass I was about to step on.  He gave me a loud rattle just before I made the biggest mistake of my life--or death.  I accidentally forgot to tell Joy about the rattle snake until much later, knowing that we'd of had to pack everything up right then and there and drive at least 2,000 miles north, until she was sure we were out of rattlesnake country.  Somehow, even though she's terrified of snakes and knows they are out there, it's when you actually spot one that she feels you must take action.  So I just casually mentioned later to the kids that this might be rattlesnake country, and reminded them to be vigilant, and of the places they like to hide.

I did take a few nicer shots as well.  As the late afternoon sun began to work it's magic on the landscape, it became obvious why they call the place Red Cliffs.  The colors were amazing!

Even the reflections in the puddles and pools of water were vivid.

It took me about two days to convince my kids that they should explore up the canyon with me.  Up to that point they were totally content to explore all of the rocks and boulders in the vicinity of our camp.  But finally Britt and Hannah came along with me for a walk.  They loved the stream and canyon and started working on their younger brothers and mom to join.

So on our last day there, with the help of my older two kids' prodding's, the rest of the family finally decided to come with us to explore further up the little canyon.  It was a glorious afternoon, and we had a great time!  The shot below was not posed.  I was out in front with the older kids and the camera, and every time I looked back it seemed like Joy was stopping and staring in awe at the beauty around us.   Well, either that or she was trying to make sure the twins weren't getting into too much trouble.  I just loved the way the light and shadows and colors were all working together here.  And Joy and the kids give you an idea of the size of the rocks.

We came to the spot where you have to work your way around a ledge, where there's some footsteps carved into the sandstone.  When I had been here before, the water in this deep pool was crystal clear (that's the first picture at the top of this post), but today it was cloudy.  Still, it was a beautiful place.  

We spent a few hours playing in the stream...

...and climbing on the rocks.

For being the only non-planned place we camped at, not to mention the least well-known, and least expensive, it turned out to be one of the favorites for our kids.  It was like a giant, natural playground!  Below, a sign of just how much fun the kids had! :-)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Angels Landing

Remember how a few weeks ago I did a post about Eastern Uganda where I showed some shots of some of the scenery over that way?  And I had a picture of a mountain top and said that some day I'm going to find a way to climb up there?  Well, that got me thinking about the Angels Landing trail that my two oldest boys and I climbed last year in Zion National Park in the U.S.

And since I'm actually not flying right now, as I wade through the process of trying to get a commercial pilot's license here, I figured I'd take a break from the East Africa stuff, and do another post or two on the U.S. National Park stuff that I never finished up earlier this year.  If you didn't get a chance to check out those posts, just go over to the column on the right and scroll back to October, 2013 and work your way forward.  Or go directly to the first post here, and then start working forward.

Anyway, as I already said, this one is about the Angels landing trail, which is in Zion National Park.  The photo above is a picture from the valley, looking up toward the rock fin, on the left side, that we were about to ascend.  Below is a picture of one section of the trail, where there are a series of very sharp switchbacks one right after the other.  This is probably one of the most scenic and craziest public "hiking" trails in the U.S.  I can't believe they actually let people use it still, as there's been quite a number of people that have fallen to their death on the trail.  They even have a prominent sign posting those figures part way up.   But the trail is absolutely amazing!  They carved it straight out of the solid rock back in 1926, and as you work your way up it's hard not to gape with your mouth open at the beauty of your surroundings...and the craziness of those people who decided to carve a trail to the top!

The first two thirds of the trail is a lot of fun, and pretty amazing, but frankly, it's rather benign--meaning, you'd have to not be paying attention to fall off and die (unlike the upper portion).  I mean, it's paved or cemented (with natural colors that blend into the surroundings) and wide enough to comfortably have several people walk side-by-side, or pass each other, even if it does drop off hundreds of feet sharply on one side or the other.   But then you eventually get to the point where you have to make the decision to either start out on the fin itself (below), or sit down and enjoy the "safe" view.  This is where many, or most, of the people stop and simply enjoy the view.  Even from here you can see up and down the canyon in both directions and the views are astounding!  And from here on out, things get a lot more hairy!  The trail winds it's way up to the very tippy top of that fin (below).  It might not look like much in this picture, but trust me, there are many places where one wrong foot, or one little stumble would result in certain death.  That's part of what makes it so exciting--it's an unparalleled view, that's available only to those who make the effort.   By the way, if you look closely in the picture below, you can see little people walking along the section of the fin where it dips.  That gives you a sense of the scale.

In many places the trail is barely three feet wide, and drops absolutely vertically on either or both sides--up to about 1,500' on one side and about 800' on the other.  In some places they have a chain anchored to the wall to hang on to, but it's not like a safety chain that will catch you.  It's always on the wrong side for that.  It's up to YOU to hang on to IT!  If you slip, or let go, that's all she wrote!  There were some places where you had to transverse a short lateral slope that was quite steep, and ended in a cliff, with gritty sand on the smooth rock.  Frankly, those parts were a lot more unnerving for me that the stretches like the one in the picture below, where at least your footing was sure if you kept your wits about you.

Frankly, the pictures here just don't capture it really well.  Despite what you or my wife might think, I was in fact keeping a close eye on my two boys, making sure that they were being safe and deliberate in each and every step.  So the scariest places where it would have made best photos--well I didn't get photos of that b/c I was helping them navigate.  There are a number of places where it's too tight to pass, so it becomes single file in those places.  Fortunately we had risen early and were among the first to ascend that morning, so there wasn't much pressure from behind, and no one coming back down yet as we worked our way up.  It was just a lot of fun!

At the top, the views are unbelievable!  The sky was so deep and blue and clear, and the sun was rising and painting the rocks a golden yellow in all directions.  Amazing!  It was hard to take it all in.  I love being on the top of mountains, and wish I had more chances to climb.  Some day I'd like to climb the Rwenzori Mountains along the border of Uganda and Congo.  They are the highest mountain chain in Africa, and have snow and glaciers year-around, and some crazy fauna and epic vistas (if the clouds part, which doesn't happen often).  But you're not allowed to climb them without a guide and that costs money that we don't have right now.  So that will have to wait till who knows when.

Anyway, my boys wanted to peer off the edge, but it's literally 1,500 feet straight down.  So I thought it best that they not stand directly on the edge.  Besides, if I didn't fall to my death on my own, my wife might have killed me if she'd have seen a picture of that.  So we deleted those pictures and... ha!  Just kidding.  So what we did was we laid down and just looked over the edge so we could see straight down 1,500 feet and stay perfectly safe in the process.  See, I am responsible!  It was fun to watch the little tour buses way down below, and the people down there looking up.

Here's a view looking one way down the canyon...

And here's a view looking the other way.

Well, after an hour or so on top we started making our way back down.  Sometimes going down can be worse than going up, but again my boys did great!  I don't know how many people commented on the way down about my son, Hudson, who was 9 years old at the time.  I think he made a lot of people feel bad--him with his big grin on his face, tackling the trail confidently but carefully, and many of them content to look from a distance at those last 500 meters of the fin.  Trust me, it wasn't for the faint of heart, or those afraid of heights.  It would not be a good place to have your knees start knocking together, or to freeze up, especially when there's so many people trying to go both directions, and several places where it's only single-file.  But Britton an Hudson were both rock stars.

It was a great experience for us to share together, and one that I'm sure we'll never forget!  Maybe someday my boys will be back with their own children, and tell them about how they first hiked this trail with Grandpa Dave way back in 2013.  Sheesh!  Now I feel old just thinking about it!!

On the way down we stopped to enjoy a picnic lunch along this bend in the trail.  Not a bad spot to eat lunch eh?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Forney Flyer - August 2014

Here's our latest Forney Flyer news letter hot off the press.  If you typically get our prayer letters via e-mail, you should have already received this a few days ago.  If you're on our hardcopy mailing list instead, then it should arrive in the mail sometime in the next week or so.

If you'd like to view a pdf copy of this letter, go here.  To see a few of our previous Forney Flyer letters, or if you're interested in joining our ministry team, please go to our MAF staff webpage here.

You'll notice in the blue section of the front page, that I mentioned the issue with my Ugandan pilot's license.  My temporary license has indeed now expired, which means I'm grounded indefinitely.  The process to get a permanent conversion pilot license here is proving to be a bit frustrating and lengthy.  It will likely be quite some time before I'm able to work through the process and begin flying again.  I appreciate your prayers that things could fall into place as efficiently as possible.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Kids Love Planes!

Kids love planes!  I think that's pretty universal, don't you?  Anywhere in the world, if you introduce an airplane to a group of kids, they go bonkers.  Especially in places where it's not an everyday occurrence. (Below, a picture in Moyo, right by the border of S. Sudan.)

There's just something cool about a vehicle which can defy the laws of gravity.  So, in order to satisfy that curiosity, loads of school kids often come to our hangar in Kajjansi for a field trip to see the airplanes.  It always amazes me how absolutely excited they are to get to see and touch a few parked airplanes.  Parked.  As in, not moving.  Not flying.  Engine not running.  Just sitting there quietly.  Yet the kids are going crazy with excitement.  But make no mistake, they're always well-behaved, being corralled and managed by a handful of equally energetic and enthusiastic teachers.  

If I happen to taxi in from a flight while they're all there, they stand respectfully in lines at a safe distance up on the hill, overlooking the parking area, waving enthusiastically.  You'd think I had just flown some sort of heroic, death-defying mission in WWII, by the way they respond when I wave back.  Who knows, maybe some of that enthusiasm will translate into a few of these kids someday becoming pilots with MAF?  The truth is, though, in many places like this, the dream of becoming a pilot is WAY beyond reach for all but the very upper class--as the expenses of training would be so beyond there reach as to be totally impossible.  But MAF is working on plans towards making more national training a reality in years to come. 

Last week I went up to Arua, near S. Sudan, and had to spend the day waiting there while another MAF plane from S. Sudan came down and picked up my passengers.  Then in the late afternoon that plane brought me some passengers to take back to Kampala.  (Due to a little "issue" Ugandan-based flight operators are currently unable to fly internationally, so we have to exchange passengers with the MAF plane from Juba.)  After helping my passengers through the immigration process in the morning, I walked back out to my plane and noticed several school bus loads of kids standing a respectable distance from my plane...staring. Mesmerized.  The aircraft was closed and locked, but they were clearly in awe.

Figuring I had plenty of time on my hands, and seeing their excitement, I offered to open it up and let them each take a turn in the pilots seat.  You would have thought I had handed them each a million bucks!  Even the teachers.  They were so excited!  It was actually all very orderly, as the adults herded them into lines, and they each took a quick turn posing for a photo that the teacher took on her cell phone, before getting down and letting the next kid in line hop up in the pilot's seat.  Meanwhile, a group of kids who had already taken their turn seemed to be equally in awe of the pilot.  Trust me, there's nothing special about this pilot, and I tried to convince them of that.  But it didn't work.  They wanted pictures with me too.  So the line went from the pilot's seat to the wheel, where they gathered around me in groups for a photo.  Check out the little guy in the lower right.  I love his expression!

And then there was this little guy, below.  He was SO excited, right up to the point that he got hoisted up to the flight deck.  Then he froze.  He wouldn't sit on the seat.  I'm not sure what he was feeling...maybe all the attention from the other kids and teachers was too much for him?  In any case, once he got down he was smiling again.

So after doing all of this for an hour or so, and after receiving many heart-felt "thanks" from both teachers and children alike, all was quiet again.  As I was locking up the plane a second time, a new person walked up to me and said, "Sir, we have six more school buses coming shortly.  We will do this again yes?"  Ummm...

I was just up there in Arua again on Thursday.  But there were no school tours this time!  The weather was crazy!  It was like the Mountain of Doom, from The Lord of the Rings.  Lighting and Thunder in all directions.  The clouds were just boiling and moving everywhere.  (Panorama below was taken on the iPhone).  I figured I would be spending the night there for sure.  But amazingly, even though it was absolutely pouring about a mile from the strip in an arc of 180 degrees, it never actually rained on the strip itself.  And when it came time to leave in late afternoon, the winds and clouds held back far enough to allow me a safe departure.  During the hour and a half flight back to Kajjansi, I had to negotiate several large walls of weather, but with the sweet, G1000 panel and weather radar, it was no problem.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Flying With Hudson

Last Monday was my son, Hudson's, 10th birthday.  It so happened that I was flying that day, and there was room on all the flights for an extra person.  So Hudson got to be my co-pilot for a day--on his birthday!  Yeah, it's not hard to spot him in the picture--but he wore his bright red shirt and bright red MAF hat just in case. :-)

He was so excited!  Not only is it fun to spend a day with dad at "work", but for Hudson in particular, he loves the flying.  Of my five kids, two of the boys are especially interested in airplanes.  The rest could take it or leave it.   Hudson loves the technical stuff and is gifted in those areas, and for as long as I can remember he's always said that he wants to be a missionary pilot one day.  Who knows, that may change.  There's still a lot of time before he has to make those kind of choices.  But I think he'd be a great pilot!  Here's a "selfie" of us.

Anyway, it was his first chance to get out of the city where we live, and to see some of the Ugandan countryside and the people in some of the more remote places.  He thought it was pretty cool that boys his age were carrying tall sticks and in charge of watching over herds of cattle.

Later that night we had a little party for him.  Happy Birthday Hudson!